At first glance the scheltopusik may look like a snake. They are a legless lizard though with remnants of the hind legs visible on most individuals just above the cloaca. Two other features confirm them as a lizard and not a snake which are the presence of external ears and moveable eyelids.
They have a uniform colour across their body scales which may be tan, yellow or brown. Both the head and underside will usually be paler than the upper body. Also running down the side of the body is a long groove. Their tail accounts for around two thirds of the body length.
A scheltopusik can measure up to 1.35m (4.4ft) long and weigh 200-400g (7-14oz).
The scheltopusik is a carnivore. They feed on small mammals, birds, insects and eggs.
After rains they will come out to hunt the snails and slugs which emerge during this period.
They are an active predator and spend their time exploring their habitat to find prey items.
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Scheltopusiks can be found throughout Europe and in to Central Asia. They can be found in the following countries; Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
They make their home in woodlands, rocky slopes, grassy areas and forests. It is not uncommon for them to venture in to fields or gardens.
Scheltopusiks seek shelter under bushes, rocks or in the burrows of other animals such as rodents.
Their breeding season is variable across the range.
Males will patrol an area looking for a female and while this takes place they will fight off any other males which they come across in their territory.
Following a successful mating the father will leave and the female will find a spot where she can lay her eggs. Egg laying begins about 10 weeks after mating. This may take place in a burrow or a cavity in a tree. Each clutch includes about 8 eggs. These eggs have a soft white shell.
Mother’s are protective over their eggs and will remain with them until they hatch only leaving for short periods to feed.
Incubation lasts for 50 days. At the end of this incubation period the eggs hatch and the young are 15cm (5.9in) long.
Young are independent from birth and responsible for their own care immediately. For a short period they may remain near the mother but within a few days of hatching they will move off to live on their own.
Sexual maturity is reached at between 2 and 3 years old.
They are typically active at dawn and dusk making them a crepuscular species or in some areas they may be nocturnal.
Scheltopusiks burrow to hide and it is believed that their lack of limbs may be an adaptation which assists with burrowing.
During the day they are often seen sitting on a rock or log to bask in the sun.
These animals are agile climbers and successful swimmers but these behaviors are only used out of necessity.
Predators and Threats
Birds of prey are the main predator of the scheltopusik.
To avoid predators they can shed their tail like many lizards. It may be shed in multiple pieces leading to the name glass lizard. These pieces of tail confuse the predators as to which piece is the actual lizard allowing them to escape.
The tail is shed as a last resort. Before doing this will typically hiss, roll and bite the threat. Once it is shed it can regrow but this takes large amounts of energy to achieve. It is also typically smaller and coloured darker than the rest of the body.
Humans threaten their population through collection for the pet trade. They are also often confused for snakes which can lead to people killing them out of fear.
The scheltopusik has many different names including the European legless lizard, amoured glass lizard and European legless lizard. The glass lizard name comes from the ability to break their tail in too many pieces.
Their name, ‘scheltopusik’ comes from a Russian term meaning ‘yellow belly.’
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